Don’t Look Up is the most frustrating movie of 2021. This is a movie that doesn’t shy away from politics and paints a bleak picture of just how screwed we are. It’s a film that was clearly written during the COVID-19 pandemic and takes the stance that everyone involved in the response procedures were complete idiots that only made the problem worse. This movie emblemizes the worst in humanity and makes a pretty compelling argument that the case of global extinction may be for the best.
Also, Don’t Look Up is a comedy. Specifically, a satire. It relishes in trying to make these cartoonishly selfish and egotistical figures entertaining in just how brazen they are. You can’t help but chuckle at just how short-sighted and moronic everyone in power is, and it does get some laughs. The biggest hurdle that you, as a viewer, are going to face is just how little you think of the human race. The film is a tonal nightmare by design and can hit a bit too close to home for some. It can also be absolutely hilarious. Or it can be extremely cathartic. Or intensely depressing. And you can experience all of these emotions in the span of five minutes.
Don’t Look Up
Director: Adam McKay
Release Date: December 10th, 2021 (Limited), December 24th, 2021 (Netflix)
In Don’t Look Up, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio star as astronomers from Michigan State who discover that a comet is hurtling towards Earth. To make matters worse, the size of the comet is equivalent to the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs, so it’s an extinction-level event to all life on Earth. Immediately upon finding this out, the pair reach out to NASA, the US government, and the media to try and raise awareness and spur them into action in the face of catastrophe. And because of the human race being… well, the human race, you can guess almost exactly how it pans out.
The president, played by Meryl Streep, doesn’t want to get involved because she’s too focused on trying to push a Supreme Court nominee through Congress. She only pays attention when her approval rating slips because an affair she’s having with the nominee leaks to the press. The media doesn’t really want to talk about it because it doesn’t have a positive spin and viewers are more interested in celebrity gossip. As for NASA, the head of the organization is an appointee by the president with no experience whatsoever with astrophysics (she’s an anesthesiologist) and defers all judgment to the president and her son, the Chief of Staff, played by Jonah Hill, who is an absolute moron that only got the job through nepotism. So yeah, rocks fall, everyone dies.
I wish I could say the movie was hilarious because it has all of the ingredients to be an intensely funny movie. You have government officials acting in self-serving ways that only come to bite them in the ass, greedy capitalists who only care about their own profits and nothing more, and a population that denies all logic and reason because they think there’s a hidden agenda being pushed. You can’t not be political about this movie but instead of being clever about its points, it’s just so tiring. I’m sure most of us watch movies to escape from the harsh realities of our existence, but Don’t Look Up grabs us by the throat and forces us to watch and see just how little hope there actually is for us. Escapism at its finest.
Subtlety has no place in Don’t Look Up. You can have a comet-sized billboard blazed over the night sky with the word “SUBTLE” written in fire and that would be nuanced compared to what’s on display here. Characters are broad archetypes that feel all too common in the modern world and you are certainly going to identify one or two characters that are based on people that you know. The movie is pushing its points as aggressively as possible and can easily be read as a push for climate change, trying to fix our own mess before it’s too late. It also has multiple digs at the Trump administration, Big Tech corporations like Apple and Tesla, and has absolute disdain for people who spread and create misinformation because the actual truth is inconvenient. But after fifteen minutes, you get the point. It’s been beaten into you. After two and a half hours, you have been beaten into glue.
The cast does a remarkable job with the material though. This is undeniably one of the best, if not the best, ensemble casts of the year. You have all of the aforementioned actors, but you also have Mark Rylance, Timothee Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchet, Chris Evans, Tyler Perry, and many other excellent actors and all of them deliver. Each sells their own character and brings enough to the table where they all feel distinct from one another and embody their own broad stereotype. I’m not the biggest fan of DiCaprio and Streep as I find both of them overrated and play roles that just seem tailor-made for award seasons fodder, but I legitimately enjoyed both of their performances. By far, Streep is the best here for just how far out of her comfort zone she goes at being crass, selfish, but undeniably a delight to watch.
But you’re going to enter Don’t Look Up with your own personal baggage. How you view the state of the world is going to impact your viewing of the film. Honestly, I found the movie depressing. I know this movie is meant to be a satire and it can be quite funny at times, but it’s a movie that I just feel hollow after watching. It’s meant to evoke a reaction from the audience and make people realize just how big of a hole we’ve dug for ourselves. Yet instead of trying to launch a proactive measure saying that there’s still a chance to save ourselves, there is no hope because the people in charge suck and no amount of campaigning, charity concerts, and public awareness is going to do anything to save us. It says a lot when the ultimate threat in the movie isn’t the giant comet hurtling towards the planet, but capitalism.
As I was watching this with my girlfriend, a running joke between the two of us was that I was actively rooting for the comet. I will argue that the comet is not the ultimate threat, but actually the protagonist! In the world of Don’t Look Up, the comet is the hero coming to stop the evil humans from destroying their own world. I texted her numerous times “go comet go” in jest, but the more I think about it, the more I found the characters to be entirely unlikable and a hunk of space rock more desirable. Even the heroes we’re supposed to root for are complete jerks, with DiCaprio’s scientist becoming a pawn of the president in exchange for fame while Lawrence’s character opts to just be bitter and angry and lash out at everyone in the face of utter despair. I mean, that’s totally relatable, but her character doesn’t evolve or change over the length of the movie, so it’s fairly stagnant.
But that was all by design. It’s trying to evoke this reaction in us and Don’t Look Up is still a good movie. The satire, while extremely direct, is sufficient, the cast and performances are equally great, and the film leaves a lasting impact where I’m sure I am going to be talking about it for a while. However, it’s a movie I only want to see once in my life. A movie where I feel like I never need to return to it because its execution is so effective that it just robs me of and joy and desire to want to return to that world.
I’m usually all for returning to satires I like. I will also give a watch to Idiocracy, Sorry to Bother You, Spring Breakers, and Jojo Rabbit. Because while those movies can be bleak, they offer compelling worlds that are interesting to explore. But the world of Don’t Look Up is just our world. Why in the world would I ever want to go there? I have enough to deal with in my everyday life than to have DiCaprio scream into the camera we’re all going to die and we all deserve to die. Poignant, yes. Rewatchable, no.